Worried by the increasing spate of inflammatory statements that prompt disaffection among the populace, the Rt. Rev. Godson Ukanwa, Bishop of Isi-Mbano Anglican Diocese, has cautioned politicians to desist from such as electioneering campaigns gather momentum.
Ukanwa, in his usual stoic moral and ethical masculinity wants them not to see the contest as a do-or-die affair as life continues after 2015 election and there cannot be two presidents at a time.
He spoke exclusively to EMMA OKEREKE in Owerri, Imo State on contemporary socio-political issues including insurgency, corruption, unemployment. Excerpts:
Nigeria is 54. Against the background of social, economic, security and religious developments, is there anything to cheer or celebrate about it?
It’s another wonderful opportunity to articulate Nigeria at 54. I remember vividly that during the 53rd independence anniversary, I submitted that Nigeria was still suffering from neo-colonialism. This was because at 53 what we saw was an independent Nigeria that was yet very under independent.
But at 54, from the unfolding drama of consummate history we can understand that so many things have happened. The issue of insurgence, gay relationship and the issue of Ebola will prove to Nigerians that the country is gradually coming of age. People thought that President Goodluck Jonathan, will collapse. Then there was the American intimidation on the issue of gays. And for Nigeria to stand up to say no to gays is a reason to show that Nigeria is of age. The issue of Ebola and how Nigeria has laboured to fight it to a standstill will also tell Nigerians that we are now of age. Again, the issue of insurgency, which we will come back to, also shows that Nigeria at 54 can fight her course. In as much as no country can be an Island, I think that at 54 Nigeria is of age. It is gradually moving to another dawn.
But still at 54, you can agree with me, that the level of unemployment is something we need to condemn. And because we have this teeming level of graduate unemployment, we are witnessing all these problems, such as kidnapping, armed robbery etc. as an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. So at 54 we need to encourage Nigeria and Nigerians to create jobs for the teeming population.
At 54 we also need to let those who serve us both at the federal and state Assemblies to know that politics is not the easiest and quickest way of making money. I say so because what we have seen is that people now enter into politics for the sole purpose of making cheap money. Sadly, politics in Nigeria these days is just like a conduit of spending government money. So at 54, we need to review our approach to legislative/executive and now gradually the judiciary. This is very important because we are beginning to see unusual and unethical behaviours from judicial officers.
Let’s look at the level of corruption and the anti-corruption organizations – EFCC and ICPC. Are you satisfied with their performances so far?
Nobody will be satisfied with the level of corruption in Nigeria and the performance of these anti-graft organizations. But one thing is certain. There is nowhere in the universe where there is no corruption. Corruption is part of the mundane. But the government has all it takes to fight it to a standstill. And the government cannot fight corruption alone without the church because the church is an agent of transformation. The church appeals to the inner man and there can be no transformation without, first of all, having an inner change that will translate to what we see externally. So there is need for a change because essentially we are not satisfied with the level of corruption. We cannot be. Nigerians are not satisfied with it but then we need to define it.
For instance when the military wants to take over government, it will say the level of corruption is at the highest. But when they come into government they perform even worse than what they, ab initio, condemned. It is the same now that we are in the campaign period. Every political party is shouting about eradicating it, but when given the mandate to rule, they fail. One oftentimes observes that what they are shouting about is uniformed. They don’t have any proof.
Nevertheless, President Goodluck Jonathan, in his transformation agenda is trying to fight corruption. Last time I talked to you, I said that it was not about what people talk but what was happening. A president or governor may have good agenda but the implementers of that agenda could rubbish him. No president will tell you to go and squander the nation’s money and build bad roads. But if the President approves N100m for road rehabilitation and the implementer uses only N20m to do it, the job will be sub-standard. What are we seeing? When people see it they condemn the president/ government. So that is the issue. We therefore call on the government to ensure that Nigeria is free from corruption because the government has all it takes to fight corruption. The EFCC, the ICPC are not exonerated from this corruption bug because corruption is part of the mundane. But again I say, government can eradicate it, not in isolation but by working with the Church.
Let us look at the on-going fight against insurgency, are we winning?
There is insurgency all over the world. That is a fundamental fact I must have to state. It is not peculiar to us in Nigeria. The whole world is suffering from terrorism. Even the United States is fighting terrorism and other countries are suffering from it also, especially Islamic incursions. There is this idea among Muslims of Islamizing the entire world and some of these boys are ready to do it anyhow and anywhere.
However, Nigeria is trying to contend with it because she has a listening President. It is pertinent to note that there are some politically motivated insurgencies. There are also those which are funded and supported by Islamic schools and there are insurgencies that are very local. The only problem we are having is the amalgamation of these three phases of insurgencies.
We thank the President of this nation, the way he is contending with this problem. We, however, plead with those who are sponsoring insurgency to desist from it because it is an ill-wind. We also plead with politicians to desist from giving arms to young people, especially during political election campaigns because often to retrieve the arms after elections becomes very difficult. This is also one of the reasons we have this insurgency. When politicians contest these political offices they should desist from sponsoring boys and touts because after getting to their destination, they should think of what becomes the fate of these arms. What next? The next thing is that these boys now use what they have to harass and intimidate the people in order to make meat for themselves. So, what I am saying in effect is that I condemn insurgency whether it is political, religious or locally motivated and we plead with government to step up the fight against it.
Campaigns for 2015 elections are increasing in tempo. What is your advice to the candidates and electorate?
My advice to the politicians is that they should desist from making inflammatory statements that will prompt wars. They must play by the rules of the game. Again, they must see elections as not do-or-die thing. They should know that life continues after 2015 and we cannot have two Presidents or two Governors at a time.
We also want to charge Christian Ministers- Pastors or Priests and Islamic Ministers, to be very careful of what they say in their churches or Mosques. They should be very sure of who handles the microphones. Priests are not the only people that are prohibited from partisan politics. Judges and Civil Servants are also. But I must advise the Priests to be sure that they are part of what is happening and educate people on what should happen. They should look at those who are presenting themselves for the peoples mandate and advice on who should be supported or not. When rogues and criminals come out to be voted for, it is part of the Priest’s role to show, by their calling, who should be supported or not. We believe that it is important for Priests to assume their role as god-fathers and not partisan politicians.
There is an increasing spate of political endorsements for offices across the nation; in your view should the President be given a second chance to lead Nigeria?
No person has the right to tell the President not to contest the Presidential election come 2015. The President has the right to contest. President Goodluck Jonathan has not done badly at all, taking into cognizance, the difficulties that surrounded his administration. President Goodluck has suffered insurgency, lots of strikes and protests. The most curious and condemnable being that by doctors that went on strike when we had Ebola national emergency. But at the end of the day, he handled them all perfectly. Today, we have improved road networks, rail rehabilitation, improved power supply and also improved agricultural output. So that man has laboured and I believe that if he wants to contest the ball is in his court. But we should ask him to contest.
There is a tendency towards inter-faith understanding in Nigeria-Muslim/Christians. What does it portend for the peace and development in Nigeria?
Inter-faith is an on-going thing. And sometimes you have inter-faith when there is a sudden rain. In the history of religions all over the world, inter-faith will always come in when there is a sudden rain. Cosmologically when there is a sudden rain there is the tendency for animal species to come together, to watch the terrain and know where the rains are flowing. So what is happening today may not give a long lasting solution. It is only a way of pan caking insurgence so that there will be a kind of peace and harmony- making the sleeping dog to lie- and then life will continue. It is also part of the responsibilities of government to fund inter-faith so that dogs that are all over the places will be made to lie still.
The Diocese of Isi-Mbano will soon be having this year’s synod. Could you tell us about it and your state of readiness for it?
By the grace of God we have a theme that says “Going back to Shiloh: a religio-pragmatic approach to faithfulness unto God”. The idea of going back to Shiloh is the idea of going back home, where one has answered prayers and happiness. Shiloh is where people gather to seek the face of God. Every good child would always want to go home because when you are harassed and pursued outside, you run home. So, Shiloh in Israelite history is the capital of religious activity. And Elkanah and his family went to Shiloh because the Israelites would always go to Shiloh once a year and pay their tithe and to prostrate before the Lord. I want to call on Christendom to always make true their vows. Husbands should make true their vows to their wives. Wives should make true their vows. Specifically, I want to call on politicians, because this synod is coming when electioneering campaigns are gathering momentum, and I want to remind them that they should make true their vows. Another mind behind the choice of this theme is that before we came back to Isi-Mbano Diocese, there was a very big clamour on the need to go back to Mbano because the people saw our place as the Shiloh of the diocese. How many people are coming back to make true their vows? We want to summon them to Shiloh because it is a place of answering prayers and God is right here to answer our prayers. We also want all our priests to always get back to Shiloh. A situation where some priests will stay in a Church compound but will not enter the Church unless on Fridays and Sundays is not good at all. They should get back to Shiloh because Eli was there when Hannah prayed, and gave his blessing to her prayers. So we are calling on all to get back to God at Shiloh, where he is settled, and answers prayers and to make true their vows.